The {Other} Boy That Changed My Life

I want to tell you a story that I try to tell as many people as possible since my trip to Ethiopia in July. When I departed for Ethiopia to pick up Tedi, I had no clue what lie ahead of me.  Due to work obligations, my wife Natalie could not travel with me.  I had been warned by our blog friend, Amy Post, to “be prepared for poverty on a scale you cannot imagine.”  Well, Amy was 100% right.  The things I saw while in Addis Ababa would fill your heart with despair and your eyes with tears.

Our second day in Ethiopia (a Monday) was the most exhilarating day of my life.  It was the day when I met Tedi and got to wrap him in my arms.  Besides all the emotion that accompanied that event, Monday left another, almost as inedible mark on my life.

After being at KVI Orphanage for a few hours, the nannies told us it was the kids’ nap time.  Not wanting to mess with their routines, we agreed that the adults would leave and do some shopping while the little ones slept.  When we arrived at the market, we were definitely on an emotional high.  I needed to get some shopping done without the responsibility of watching a three year old, however, I was counting down the minutes until we could go back and get Tedi.  We had waited so long to get him (8 months of the adoption process and 15 months of infertility before that).

In Addis Ababa, there is a conglomerate of shops where foreigners go to look for trinkets and souvenirs.  Naturally, this is great place for the less-fortunate to congregate and beg for money.  As to not disrupt business, the shop owners hire security guards to keep the street kids out of their shops.  They walk around with long broomsticks and “shoo” away any kid that gets too close to a tourist.  Although I understand the perspective of the business owners, I hated this practice because I wanted to interact with as many Ethiopians as I could.  Also, I hated the idea that it appeared we were better than them in some way and could not be bothered with their presence.  While meandering in and out of shops, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye.  It was a t-shirt with a Western Kentucky University Hilltopper logo on it!  For those of you who do not know us, Natalie and I both graduated from WKU.  It is where we met and I worked on the basketball staff there.  To see this familiar logo on a young boy’s shirt was amazing.  I knew this was no coincidence and that God had orchestrated this event.  I ran up to the boy who was around twelve.  I am sure he thought I was a complete psycho.  I kept pointing at his shirt and saying, “That’s my school.  Go Tops!”  He politely smiled and shook his head nervously.  I tried to converse with him but his English was very broken.  I gathered that his name was Selam.  Here is a picture of Selam and me:

Being a street kid, Selam did not have many earthly possessions.  My friend, Keith, gave him and some of his friends a new soccer ball which made them the envy of their group.  He was wearing a very ragged pair of sweat pants and shoes that you and I would be ashamed to wear.  The shirt was a little big for him but I am sure it is the only shirt he owns.  He was wearing a small plastic cross around his neck that was fashioned with a cheap black string.  To my knowledge, this cross was the only earthly possession Selam had to his name that was not an essential item.  I took a few pictures and videos of him, chatted to him and his friends the best we could and was on my way.  I thought this was a very cool story that I could tell my WKU friends about when I got home.Boy, was I wrong.

We ended up back at the same shops a few days later.   As I was walking around, I heard a voice from the crowd that had gathered.  “Friend.  Friend.  My friend!”  I looked up and it was Selam (still wearing the WKU shirt) and his friends.  I went out to where he was and brought Ayele, our driver, so he could interpret for us.  As we were talking, I noticed that one of Selam’s friends had hit what must have been the jackpot for these poor children.  He had stumbled upon some half eaten food that had been thrown in the trash at a restaurant.  The sight of this broke my heart in two.  To see the joy in this boy’s face at finding trash was indescribable.  I took a quick inventory of my life and all the blessings I have been given and how I do not appreciate so many of them.  As our time to depart was growing near, I told Selam we must be leaving.  He told me, through Ayele that he had something he wanted to give me.  He reached underneath his shirt and pulled the cross out and started to take it off his neck.  I stopped him.  I politely told Ayele to convey to him there was no way I was taking that cross with me.  He told Ayele that we were friends and this is what friends do.  He told me to keep it as a memento from Ethiopia.

In the car on the way back to the orphanage, I was an emotional wreck.  What was God trying to tell me?  At the time, I questioned why God had put so much emotional baggage on my plate at one time.

After some separation, I now know what God was telling me when He introduced Selam and I.  He was telling me not to forget what I had seen.  Orphan care is not only about the children like Tedi who are fortunate enough to be adopted.  Orphan care does not end when we step off the plane in the US with our children.  Orphan care DOES NOT END.  Orphan care is about kids like Selam.  Kids who have not been shown the earthly love they deserve.  Thankfully, Selam has been redeemed by his Heavenly Father.  I cannot forget Selam.  I must not forget Selam.  We must not forget Selam.  We must never forget all of them.

I sit here tonight in a house that has so much stuff we have run out of places to put it.  I can honestly say that this green plastic cross is the one physical item I would grab if I had to get out in a hurry.

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